It’s been 10 years since Taken, and despite this, it seems Liam Neeson’s characters still can’t take care of their family or are always being tormented by conniving voices on the other end of phones. If you've seen a trailer of The Commuter and feel the premise seems a little bit formulaic, it’s because this is the 4th outing with director Jaume Collet-Serra at the helm of a Neeson lead action flick, particularly with the latest installment drawing multiple parallels with 2014's Non-Stop, only this time, it's trains rather than planes. See what they did there?
The opening is a fantastic agglomeration of the film's namesake. Neeson is Michael MacCauley – a humble, good-intentioned insurance salesman, working hand-to-mouth for his wife (Elizabeth McGovern) and son (Dean-Charles Chapman). Getting up each day in routine fashion throughout the seasons, to catch the same commuter train bound for New York from his leafy suburbs. Upon learning one day after meeting clients that his job of 10 years is to be made redundant with immediate effect, he’s deflated and can’t bear to tell his family. Riding the train home, a mystery woman called Joanna (Vera Farmiga) whom Michael doesn’t recognise as a “regular” sits opposite to him and states before swiftly getting off at the next station that “hypothetically” there’s $25,000 for the immediate taking hidden nearby on the train, and $75,000 should he successfully find and locate a person called “Prynne” before reaching a station roughly an hour away. Peaked by his curiosity, Michael finds the initial cash and is unwittingly roped into this very real and sinister arrangement upon learning his wife and son may no longer be safe.
The Commuter is a film that demands to be taken seriously initially with its promising setup as a suspense thriller, but as the action unfolds, things start to derail. Michael’s initial suspects for who could be Prynne are merely lazy caricatures (banker wanker, misunderstood teenage punk-rocker, etc) only distinguishable by stereotypical tropes rather than having any emotional depth being invested in them. Talents such as Farminga, are wasted, with Joanne being relegated to only chiming in via a mobile phone periodically - how she knows the exact time to call upon the various ill-revelations Michael encounters while trying to locate Prynne is anyone’s guess. What could have been an explosive thriller ends up being a goofy adrenaline-fuelled romp, with physical clashes between Neeson and those half his age, complete with of cheesy quips and cheap gags. Arguably this is what fans have come to expect, but it’s a pity its initial premise is wasted.
In order to not collapse on its increasingly ridiculous and convoluted story, the action screeches to a halt in the final act. Plot points are lectured to the audience to the extent where scenes may as well be an audiobook. There are twists abound in a last-ditch attempt, but ultimately the ending is a letdown, which very clearly hadn’t been properly fleshed out. There’s a hackneyed moment towards the end in which I rolled my eyes so hard, I risked detaching my retinas. While it garnered a good laugh or two, it's clear this was the exact point where the screenwriters had called it a day and had given up at whichever genre or direction the film was supposed to be going.
Liam Neeson does what he does best, a relatable everyman who can still throw the punches in violent set-pieces, though even his character Michael angry exclaims multiple times “I’m 60 years old!” with the indignant suffering he has to endure throughout. This might be a broader metaphor for Neeson’s career and it may be time for him to lay these beat’ em up movies to rest.
The Commuter is by no means awful, but much like a commute of your very own that you took this week, it’s indistinguishable from the rest and has nothing too memorable to shout about by the time you arrive home.